INDIANAPOLIS — The Better Business Bureau is seeing an uptick in complaints and issued a warning to be careful before you bid on anything or wire money, especially for a big-ticket item, in online auctions.
Terry and Debbra Meade in Wisconsin bought an RV using the online auction site “Inline Repo,” supposedly based in Indianapolis.
They wired $28,000 but the Meades say their RV never showed up.
“Our money is gone,” Terry said.
After we brought you the Meades story in December, we heard from Rick and Charene Wigton from California’s Bay Area.
They bid $24,501 on the same vehicle as the Meades, the 2007 Fleetwood Discovery.
“It looked totally legit,” Charene said.
The Wigtons say Inline Repo never delivered their vehicle.
Patrick Giraudi of Burbank California says the same thing happened to him when he used Inline Repo to bid on a Forest River RV.
“I lost $20,300,” Patrick said. “It’s a lot of money.”
Dwayne Bailey of Alabama used Inline Repo to bid on a John Deere tractor.
“We wired them $24,300,” Dwayne said.
Dwayne said his tractor never arrived.
“I offered to go pick it up and they told me I could not do that, and that’s when I realized I had been took for,” Dwayne said. “I tried to get the money back and it was too late.”
All of these consumers say they’ve contacted law enforcement about Inline Repo, including the FBI.
“This country has got to shut these kind of people down,” Dwayne said. “You have the average person who has worked all their lives, saved all their money to buy equipment.”
Consumers are frustrated at the lack of response from the FBI.
“It seems like someone should get on it and they're not,” Rick Wigton said. “We reached out to them, and did not hear back."
WRTV Investigates called and emailed Inline Repo, but their phone number and email do not work.
WRTV also stopped by the company’s address listed the company’s website, 301 E. Market St. in Indianapolis.
That address is actually the Cummins building downtown, and the building’s landlord says Inline Repo has never been located in the building.
In fact, WRTV Investigates did some checking and found Inline Repo is not registered to do business in the state of Indiana nor do they have an auctioneer’s license in Indiana.
The Better Business Bureau currently has an alert out about Inline Repo.
The company’s domain name was registered in Iceland, in September 2021, records show.
As of November, the website — https://www.inlinerepo.com — no longer exists.
“They are very advanced the way they do things,” Patrick said. “The web design, the pictures, the way they have all the information."
Consumers are concerned about new vehicle auction websites popping up, like Auction the Best or Auct Best LLC, supposedly based in Nashville, Tennessee.
Records show the website’s domain name was also registered in Iceland, and the AuctBest website has some of the pictures and descriptions used as Inline Repo, including the 2007 Fleetwood Discovery that caught the attention of the Meades and Wigtons.
"It’s the same format, same wording, same questions and answers all of that,” Rick said.
WRTV Investigates called Auction the Best.
A man who called himself Michael McKenzie called us back and told us the company’s address is 15 Deaderick Street, the same address listed on their website.
“We are on second floor, fourth room,” said the man. “You are just talking now with someone at that office.”
But our Scripps station in Nashville, WTVF, stopped by and the address “15 Deaderick” does not exist in downtown Nashville—the closest thing is Public Square Park.
The man denied being connected in any way to Inline Repo, and had no explanation as to why the website had some of the same pictures and listings.
“I don’t know that website,” the man said.
Auction the Best and AuctBest LLC are not registered to do business in Tennessee, records show.
Darren Simmons of Columbia City Indiana says he almost sent AuctBest money after winning a bid on a Newell Coach—that is until he found pictures of the vehicle on another website with a nearly identical description.
“It was going to be a great deal for me,” Darren said. “I was going to get a really nice coach. We just wanted something inexpensive.”
Darren said the seller of the Newell Coach confirmed her vehicle was not a repossession nor was she involved with AuctBest.
“This should not be allowed,” Darren said.
WRTV Investigates asked FBI Special Agent Spencer Brooks what they can do about online auction websites.
“We can track IP addresses, we can track bank accounts," Special Agent Brooks said.
The FBI can’t confirm or deny they’re investigating complaints involving online auction websites, even though the Inline Repo victims we spoke with lost a combined $97,000.
“We investigate cases that are typically in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range,” Special Agent Brooks said. “We have to be picky because we are going to investigate the five million dollar case before the one million dollar case. That's the reality of it when you only have so many agencies and analysts to do this work."
The FBI said the bad actors often convert their money quickly to cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, making it harder to trace.
Plus, the FBI can’t always subpoena records when other countries are involved.
“If they set up shop overseas, the funds get transferred overseas we lose our jurisdiction,” Special Agent Brooks said.
Special Agent Brooks said the country where a website’s domain is registered, like Iceland, is a clue, but not a smoking gun.
“Does it mean the operation is set up there? Not necessarily,” Special Agent Brooks said. “It could be or it could be a company offers server space or the ability to host a website there."
The FBI isn’t really in a position to shut down websites.
“Have we done it as part of cases? Absolutely but that’s not something we do unilaterally,” Special Agent Brooks said. “There’s a lot of court documentation that goes into that. I wish there was a way that these things could be stopped easily, but they really can’t.”
You can file an internet crime complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center here.
Better Business Bureau Tips To Avoid Auction Scams
- Research auctions and auctioneers before participating. If an auction claims to be a “government” auction, reach out to the branch of government hosting the event to make sure it’s legitimate. If you’re looking at a private auction or an auction ran by a private company, look into the auctioneer ahead of time. Look carefully at reviews from previous buyers. Does the auctioneer have a good reputation? Do they have the appropriate licensing to conduct the auction? If the answers are no, or there is no information available about the auctioneer, it may be best not to participate.
- Get to know the terms and conditions of the auction. Find out whether there are entry fees, winning bidder fees, taxes, or shipping costs you’ll be responsible for paying. Winning an auction may not be as simple as paying the price you offered. Plus, scammers may try to hustle you out of “entry fees” or “pre-bid deposits” without even having any real items in their auction.
- Don’t give in to bidder’s excitement. Don’t make impulse buys when participating in auctions. Scammers will be counting on you to get wrapped up in the excitement and could even prod you into a fake bidding war to get more money out of you. Even when you are on a reputable auction website, set a spending limit and stick to it. If an item goes over your budget, don’t buy it.
- Understand how auction sites work. Check each auction website’s rules and policies carefully. Pay special attention to what buyer protections the auctioneer has in place. Find out what policies apply if an item is not delivered or is significantly different from its description. Each site may have different rules and procedures. If a website offers no buyer protection at all, consider it a red flag.
- Find out how payments are made. Know how and who you will pay before you place a bid. If the seller insists on using a payment method you are unfamiliar with, do some research. If the payment service doesn’t have a customer service line you can contact to find out details about how the service works, don’t use it to make a payment.
- Check the seller’s contact information. The same goes for the seller or auctioneer. Check out their website and look for valid contact information. If you can’t reach anyone, or if you do speak with someone who is uncomfortable answering your questions, don’t participate in their auctions.
- Be careful with your personal information. Be sure you trust a website, company, or auctioneer before you divulge your personal information. Once your information is in the hands of a scammer, you won’t be able to get it back.